Screwston, Texas

With 'Slab God,' Paul Wall Rides Clean Again

“I’m already looking at my rear view mirror cause I’m like, damn, they pull me over, they might take my day away,” Paul Wall says over the phone with a laugh. “I’m like, damn, man, it’s official but it’s never official ’cause they can take it away.”

Two months ago, the self-proclaimed Slab God was presented with his own day by the City of Houston, the sixth rapper to be honored with such an award thanks to his involvement in the community. The timing of it couldn’t be any more proper. Weeks before his August 16 Back to School drive, the grilled-up father of two had to combat unforeseen forces trying to halt his Midtown kickback. Their fears of “large concert” with thousands of people went unconfirmed, and Wall had his event, and shouted out Mayor Annise Parker while at it.

And Thursday, a day before Slab God arrived, there was Paul again, smiling and joyful. This time he was playing Uber driver while he and 93.7 The Beat on-air personality/part-time KHOU correspondent Devi Dev discussed the album and his rather imaginative promotional side to letting people hear it. Even then he seemed far more comfortable, appealing, as if he had the least amount of concern. “I’m doing this art to give to the world and give back to the world,” Wall said about his music. “A major of component is giving me the opportunity to give back. Any entrepreneur that made it out of circumstances that were against them...we all have an obligation to give back regardless of where you’re from.”

On one hand, that’s the mind-set of Paul Wall, Houston rap veteran. Slab God, his eighth full-length album, contains no compromises, no attempts at crossing over and no hints or airs or attempts to follow trends. On the other, he’s moving back into the colorful, outrageous boasts and one liners that made him a Swishahouse legend and revered man around town. The album is tailor-made riding music, pure and simple. All of it is built around the hubris that it should be heard particularly in a car, regardless of the time of day. There are minor anthems for daily occurrences, as when Wall stands on the pulpit preaching before rolling up some herb on “Crumble the Satellite," chases money over distorted 808s (“Run a Check Up”) and does the tried-and-true Houston calling card of flipping a classic soul track to make it about Houston culture (“Swangin In the Rain”). Slab God’s feature list looks like a movie montage, Paul handling the steering wheel while the likes of Trae tha Truth, Stunna Bam, DJ Mr. Rogers, Devin the Dude, Curren$y, Scotty ATL, Snoop Dogg and Propain are interchangeable passengers.

But a sense of remorse chases Slab God around for much of its duration. As often as The People’s Champ slides around, bending corners and sipping on barre, he makes time to reminisce about fallen friends and those locked up. 50-50 Twin’s incarceration, The Jacka from the Bay Area getting killed earlier this year are mentioned, along with constant references to Al Rucker Bail Bonds. It’s clear that throughout Slab God, we’re running toward something with Paul Wellican while also running away from something else. His demons aren’t his, just those that he happens to wear on his skin in the form of his many tattoos. Still, he raps with the confidence that all of it will wash away with a little time to oneself. He’s back to checking boppers on “Chose Me," a synth-stabbing trunk-rattler featuring Snoop Dogg and Berner, invoking Pretty Tony and Goldie's conversation from The Mack and chasing money elsewhere (“I got money on my mind...fuck those hoes!”).

If you declare an album strictly for the slabs of America, then it has to sound like a monster, a 808 and snare-drum concoction that will tear up every block and keep your name ringing from street to street. That’s what June James, Scoop Deville and 5-9 provide on Slab God, amplified bass lines and organ pivots that want to hit harder than the track that proceeded it. It works for the latter half of the album’s car-related moments like the Le$-featured “Shine On ‘Fo’s” and “Checklist” with Lil Keke. How slow is Paul crawling by the way? Slower than a parade float, according to “Checklist.” That’s a bar he wasn’t going to leave on the cutting-room floor. Nor was he not going to let the younger side of Houston rap starve. He, much like Slim Thug, has found time to impart wisdom to the younger artists and work with them on a consistent basis.

“We’re a team, trying to bring the whole squad with us. Like big brothers. We've got to show the next generation our mistakes so that they don’t make those mistakes,” Wall told NOISEY about the interaction. “Some artists don’t want you to be a big brother; they want to do it on their own. And that’s cool, but we don’t want to see Texas culture or Houston fall apart.”

Slab God is a unifier. Even if Paul Wall isn’t chasing club notoriety or anything near it now, he knows he’s created something that’s going to translate to that arena with ease. It may be a straight-to-the-point album by The People’s Champ and head of the Texas Grammy Committee, but that’s exactly what he wanted, something back to the basics. “I went all the way back to the drawing board and went back to what made me, y’know, me. Bars, hooks. And that’s what Slab God to me is, just getting back to the basics,” he said. “It took me a couple projects to get where I want to be, and I feel like I’m in a good spot. Lot of good music been coming out the studio when I go in there lately. I’m proud to be 20 years in, still remaining me.”

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell